2022.10.20 Donne, donna

Cameroonian women’s activist: 'We must train girls to be leaders'

On the sidelines of a Caritas-sponsored conference on women in leadership, Cameroonian activist and NGO founder Marthe Wandou speaks about helping girls to be leaders, and the threat to women’s rights posed by instability and violence.

By Joseph Tulloch and Francesca Merlo

Marthe Wandou is a Cameroonian activist and founder of the NGO ALDEPA, which works for the empowerment of girls and women, as well as the 2021 winner of the Right Livelihood ‘Alternative Nobel Prize.’

She spoke to Vatican News’ Francesca Merlo on the sidelines of a two-day conference on women’s leadership in Paris, sponsored by Caritas Internationalis, UNESCO, and the Holy See, and discussed the importance of preparing girls for leadership, as well as the threat of gender-based violence in parts of Africa.

Girls as leaders

In her address to conference attendees, Ms. Wandou spoke of the importance of “starting with young girls in order to reach women.” She elaborated on this theme in her interview with Vatican News.

“For us, it's very important to start with girls”, she said, “to make sure that tomorrow we have different women who can stand as a leader.”

“We train them on the leadership skills … What is the profile of a leader and how they can also take the position of a leader? So we have in the school, we put in place what we call the children’s government … We encourage girls to take positions like the Prime Minister or Minister of Defence … Women have never been put at that position in our country. So we want to show … that it’s possible and also to make girls understand that if a woman has confidence, she can also play the role.”

The results of this programme, and other initiatives run by ALDEPA, are encouraging, she said.

“Girls who are in this program, who are receiving the training, we see that firstly they have self-confidence. And secondly, they are not afraid to face people in their communities.”

Threat of violence

Ms. Wandou also spoke of the threat posed to women in Cameroon by various conflicts in the region.

Women and children represent among 60% of the 70,000 Nigerian refugees in the far north of the country who are fleeing the terrorist group Boko Haram, she said, and about 70% of the 300,000 internally displaced Cameroonians fleeing separatist conflict.

These refugees, says Ms. Wandou, are “very vulnerable, because they don’t have anything.” As a result, often “girls are sold, because families who have many children think that by sending a girl to a marriage they can receive money to support the family needs.”

A further issue is trauma. “Boko Haram itself has impacted women's life in terms of rape, in terms of trauma, because many women saw their husband killed in front of them … Some women also have been raped by Boko Haram groups. So the situation is that we have many types of trauma in front of us.”

Listen to a clip of the interview

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28 October 2022, 16:50